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DISPLAYING POSTS FROM: Oct 2011 (15)

Long-tailed Cuckoos

Author
by Craig Robertson
Publish date
31 October 2011
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Craig is a Melbourne writer with an interest in natural history. He has been a museum volunteer in Birds and Mammals for several years.

October is an important time of year for bird migration. In the southern hemisphere birds head for their summer breeding grounds. Most species of cuckoo are migratory and the Long-tailed Cuckoo (Eudynamys taitensis) is the greatest traveller of the southern hemisphere cuckoos. It is added to the Australian list owing to its seasonal presence on Lord Howe and Norfolk Islands. Museum Victoria has several specimens of this species, mostly from New Zealand.

Long-tailed Cuckoo skins in their drawer. Long-tailed Cuckoo skins in their drawer.
Image: Craig Robertson
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Some of the specimens are over a hundred years old. Not unusually one of the skins is from John Gould, acquired around 1860, another from James Cockerell, a pioneering nineteenth century collector who gained his specimen in the Solomon Islands in 1879; others are of more recent origin. They almost radiate with a sense of history, and perhaps some mystery too.

Long-tailed Cuckoos spend the winter months in the more tropical islands of the Pacific Ocean, mainly in Polynesia. Their spring migration takes them to New Zealand and its surrounding islands. From French Polynesia, the islands around Tahiti, the distance is over 3000 kilometres, a route over open ocean. It is in this group that it is thought the New Zealand Maoris had their ancestral home, the paradisiacal land of Hawaiki.

Some students of Polynesian voyaging have theorised that the original discovery of New Zealand was made by following cuckoo migration. But it is a controversial idea. Maori mythology is replete with stories of ancestral voyaging. The mythology also acknowledges the existence and character of the Long-tailed Cuckoo, 'a lazy parent'. But there does not appear to be any definitive link between them and the voyaging.

Nevertheless, it is a persuasive idea. Long-tailed cuckoos are land birds. Individual Pacific Islands hold relatively few bird species, especially land birds. However unpopulated New Zealand was heavily forested, with a bountiful range of host species which cuckoos could parasitise; the result – lots of cuckoos. Their presence and movements in the islands would have been prominent. Also they migrate over a period of two or three weeks, usually in October. They fly day and night, low over the ocean, calling loudly to each other as they go in a way that can be heard on the water in the dark.

A remarkable Australian, Harold Gatty, was probably the most prominent proponent of the bird migration theory. As a young man he had gained a thorough knowledge of navigation. He emigrated to the United States and rose to fame in 1931 as the navigator on a historic flight around the world in eight days. Along with the pilot, he was given a ticker tape parade in New York and a medal by President Herbert Hoover. Later he served with Macarthur's headquarters in the South Pacific.

In 1943 Gatty published The Raft Book, a survival guide for airmen at sea. It was standard issue in the life rafts aboard all Allied aircraft in the Pacific. The book includes Gatty's ideas about how to navigate using the techniques of 'the greatest pathfinders in history', the Polynesians. As Gatty says, they understood bird migration long before Europeans, understood there was land where the birds were seen to go to, and then return from. They were an adventurous people and brave sailors in canoes that they said 'dared the clouds of heaven'.

Just imagine you are far out from any known land at night, the infinite starry sky above and a seemingly infinite world of water around you, your next landfall an unknown distance away -and nothing but a bunch of cuckoos to guide you on your way. Brave sailors indeed.

Two Long-tailed Cuckoo specimens Two Long-tailed Cuckoo specimens mounted for exhibition.
Image: Craig Robertson
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Whatever the truth about Maori migration, it is certain that the adult birds in the Museum Victoria collection would have made great voyages across the South Pacific. There is a Long-tailed Cuckoo in the Amazing Animals of Australasia, Oceania and Antarctica in Wild: Amazing animals in a changing world.

Further reading:

Harold Gatty, Nature is Your Guide: how to find your way on land and sea, Collins, London, 1958

David Lewis, We, the Navigators: the ancient art of landfinding in the Pacific, ANU Press, Canberra, 1972

For the sceptical view:

Andrew Sharp Ancient Voyagers in Polynesia, Angus and Robertson, Sydney, 1963

Nitty Gritty Super Kids

Author
by Alexandra
Publish date
31 October 2011
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Comments (1)

Alexandra is the Early Learning Program Coordinator at Scienceworks. She loves exploring the ways in which science engages young children.

As part of a fabulous partnership with DEECD Western Metropolitan Region (WMR) Laverton Community Children's Centre recently made their very first visit to Nitty Gritty Super City. These children hail from the fastest-growing region in Australia, as well as being amongst the most culturally and linguistically diverse.

This is what it looked like on the big day:

Finding clothes to wear on a sunny Melbourne day Finding clothes to wear on a sunny Melbourne day.
Image: Kimalee Reid
Source: DEECD
 

Using the lever to operate the digger Using the lever to operate the digger.
Image: Kimalee Reid
Source: DEECD
 

We-hoisted-the-bricks-up-using-the-rope-and-pulley-web We hoisted the bricks up using the rope and pulley.
Image: Kimalee Reid
Source: Museum Victoria
 

We played in the Scienceworks playground We played in the Scienceworks playground.
Image: Kimalee Reid
Source: DEECD
 

The kids had a great time and the day's event was a great first step to encourage an interest in science for these early learners. We hope to see them back again soon! 

Links:

Department of Education and Early Childhood Development

Education programs for Nitty Gritty Super City

2011 Victorian Model Solar Vehicle Challenge

Author
by Avvy
Publish date
28 October 2011
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Avvy is a Programs Officer at Scienceworks. She develops science-related activities and shows for visitors, and organises various community science events.

There was an assortment of chills, thrills and spills at the 2011 Victorian Model Solar Vehicle Challenge held at Scienceworks on Saturday 22 and Sunday 23 October.

ariel shot Scienceworks Arena is transformed for the solar vehicle challenge.
Source: Dione Read

This competition, now in its 19th year, brings together teams of school students from all over Victoria to race solar powered model cars and boats that they have designed, built and tested throughout the year. The two-day event allows participants to discover who is the ‘fastest under the sun’.

Two solar boats prepare to race. Two solar boats prepare to race.
Source: Museum Victoria

In what has almost become tradition for this solar-powered event, the weather on Saturday morning was overcast, cold and drizzly. This did nothing to dampen the spirits of over 700 students and their supporters, fiercely competing in a number of different divisions – primary school teams start their model solar education building junior boats, while the more complex cars and advanced boats are usually built by secondary school students. Teams spend several months building their vehicles, working with science and technology teachers, parents and lab techicians.

Two solar cars Two solar cars competing on the race track.
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Taking on the challenge Taking on the challenge, one of the solar cars that competed at Scienceworks
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The patchy conditions and rain over Saturday led to some accidents, as cars that had been tweaked to deal with low levels of sunlight found it hard to maintain a solid grip on the slippery track, while other cars had difficulties to facing the challenging slope of the track. However, Sunday dawned bright and sunny, allowing the solar vehicles to perform at their zippy best – sometimes to their detriment, with some speedy cars losing grip when cornering and spilling off the track.

Scienceworks Arena is transformed for the solar vehicle challenge. Scienceworks Arena is transformed for the solar vehicle challenge.
Source: Museum Victoria

After many rounds of knockout races, ‘Comet’ from Geelong College emerged victorious in the car division. ‘Rainbow Warrior’ from Ruskin Park Primary was the winner of the junior boats category, while ‘Interim Name’ from Torquay College took the trophy for advanced boats. These top competitors will receive invitations and sponsorships to attend the national championship in Hobart in November.

Links:

Victorian Model Solar Vehicle Challenge

Historian at the Prom

Author
by Rebecca Carland
Publish date
27 October 2011
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Bec is working on the history of Museum Victoria's Science Collections and all the people who have been part of them since the museum's origin in 1854.

As a history curator, the dizziest height I usually get to is the top shelf of the archive. So flying over Wilsons Promontory with the Prom Bioscan team last week was a true adventure. 

My job, History of Science Collections Curator, often involves following the archive trail of past scientists to establish the what, where and how behind the specimens in our collections. The history of Wilsons Prom is interwoven with the history of Museum Victoria. Three former directors were instrumental in the establishment and ongoing development of the park. In the 1960s Charlie Brazenor led a museum team survey whose report initiated many of the park's innovations such as a permanent ranger/manager, proper signage and even a small museum at Tidal River.

1950 survey team at Wilsons Prom Charles Brazenor, Curator of Mammals and later Director (second from right) oversaw the museum survey in 1950.
Image: Hope McPherson
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The Prom Bioscan represents the next phase of the museum's work at the Prom so I just had to be there to document it. We hold some magnificent historic images of the Prom and it was also a great opportunity to re-shoot some of those locations to get a sense of how the park has changed over time.

Jim Whelan, former chief ranger at the Prom and local keeper of Prom history, has been gleefully working with me on a short history of field surveys at the Prom and was the ultimate guide on my travels.

Jim Whelan in a helicopter Jim Whelan, Operations Manager, Wilsons Prom Centre for Excellence sharing his knowledge of the Prom.
Image: Rebecca Carland
Source: Museum Victoria
 

We flew by helicopter from Tidal River over most of the park, skirting the coastline looking for the rock formations in the historic images I had brought with me. Some locations were simply too difficult to land so we had to hover over the trees and take the photos through the little window of the chopper. Other locations, like Mt Oberon car park, which can't be accessed by road since the floods, were the perfect spot to land the chopper and walk or bushbash to the spots we needed. Jim has every tree; every rock imprinted in his memory and the journey through his memories was as interesting as the chopper ride.

Our longest stop was at Sealers Cove. Having been there many times on foot it was spectacular to see the cove open up before us as we rounded the coastline.

Helicopter on beach Pilot Ed parked the chopper next to iconic Whale Rock on Sealers Cove beach.
Image: Rebecca Carland
Source: Museum Victoria
 

I wanted to find remnants of the old wooden tramway used by the mill in 1800s but the terrain was impenetrable. I did, however, find a couple of little wooden posts sticking out of the sand where the massive jetty that serviced the mill once stood. The jetty was built by King and McCulloch in 1903 and extended 800 metres into the cove.

Men on a jetty The Sealer's Cove jetty in the 1920s.
Source: Jan Phelan
 

Bec in the sand taking photo Bec Carland getting down and dirty photographing the remnants of Sealers Cove jetty.
Image: Anna McCallum
Source: Museum Victoria
 

The last remnants of the Sealers Cove jetty The last remnants of the Sealers Cove jetty.
Image: Rebecca Carland
Source: Museum Victoria
 

So today, back at my desk staring out at the Royal Exhibition Building I can still hear the sea and the echo of the radio calls from the chopper headphones buzzing in my ears and if I squint a bit, the cream REB against the blue sky looks a little like the sands of Sealers Cove. The recreated photos are looking good and some truly fascinating moments in the Prom's history are coming together as a series of videos for Collections Online.

Tycho in South Africa

Author
by Tanya
Publish date
26 October 2011
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The 6th Science Centre World Congress was held last month in Cape Town, South Africa and the Planetarium's adventurous dog, Tycho, was there to take in all the action.

Special screenings of Tycho to the Moon were held at the Iziko Planetarium throughout the week of the Congress. And it seems that Tycho won the kids' hearts there just as he does here at home.

Tycho to the Moon in Iziko Planetarium Cape Town South Africa The audience enjoys Tycho to the Moon in the Iziko Planetarium, Cape Town, South Africa
Source: Sky-Skan
 

Tycho to the Moon is our longest running show at the Planetarium. It was the first show we produced for the Planetarium's move to Scienceworks. Hundreds of thousands of children have seen the show and we love hearing young Tycho fans lining up for yet another visit to see their favourite dog.

Of course being around for over 12 years, Tycho has had a few necessary modifications. He began life as a brown mutt, adorable but scruffy. The Tycho we're used to seeing today is a bit sleeker and shinier but he never lost his mischievous ways.

Tycho mission badges All good astronauts need a mission badge and here's Tycho's collection, from his original trip to the present day.
Image: Melbourne Planetarium
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Three years ago, when the show was converted to the Planetarium's fulldome format, we also took the opportunity to produce a Northern Hemisphere version of Tycho to the Moon. But of course some minor tweaks were needed first.

Since they can't see the Southern Cross over there, Tycho's favourite constellation became the Big Dipper, a prominent and well-known feature of the northern sky. And when the rocket leaves Earth, rather than blasting off from a backyard in Melbourne, we fly above the San Francisco area.

Now you may never have thought about it, but when you change hemispheres the Moon switches from being in the north to the south, as well as turning upside down! So while we see the phases of the Moon growing from left to right, in the northern hemisphere it's the exact opposite. I must admit it made for some tricky moments trying to work with something that's so familiar when you see it in Melbourne but so foreign when viewed from San Francisco.

But wherever he is Tycho still loves to watch for the Full Moon to rise. And when he sees it ... well if you don't know, you'll just have to come visit the Planetarium to find out!

publicity shot for Tycho on the Moon publicity shot for Tycho on the Moon
Image: Melbourne Planetarium
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Links

Session times for Tycho to the Moon

Paradise Valley

Author
by Kate C
Publish date
21 October 2011
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On Wednesday a small team - five scientists and two rangers - were allowed into into the protected heart of Wilsons Prom as part of the Prom Bioscan project. The Vereker Creek Reference Area, colloquially known as Paradise Valley, is largely untouched by recent human activity. It is afforded the highest level of conservation protection and access is strictly limited to infrequent scientific research. The purpose of keeping areas such as Paradise Valley closed is to maintain a pristine reference point against which the impacts of human activity can be measured.

The area contains a stand of Antarctic Southern Beech trees (Nothofagus cunninghamii) and thus the possibility of Gondwanan wildlife. Rare and endangered mammals might still persist there. It's a very exciting opportunity for the specialist team but the first obstacle is getting there. There are no tracks to Paradise Valley, just a long hike through swordgrass taller than their heads after being dropped by helicopter on Five Mile Beach.

Two men standing by water tank Wayne and Richard in their helicopter suits waiting for their turn in the chopper.
Image: Melanie Mackenzie
Source: Museum Victoria
 

I didn't make the cut for the team going in to Paradise Valley, but there was enough room in the helicopter for a couple of us to tag along for the drop-off, which was an adventure in itself. Seeing the Prom from the air was simply amazing.

Five Mile Beach from the helicopter The beautiful Five Mile Beach seen from above.
Image: Melanie Mackenzie
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Helicopter pilots Jim Whelan of Parks Victoria and our pilot Ed in the helicopter.
Image: Melanie Mackenzie
Source: Museum Victoria
 

Helicopter transporting field gear Helicopter taking off for Five Mile Beach carrying field gear and three days' food in a sling beneath it.
Image: Melanie Mackenzie
Source: Museum Victoria

Tomorrow I'm heading to Sealers Cove with about half of the MV scientists for more survey work. We'll be back in the middle of next week with much more to report on the Prom Bioscan.

Looking out over Sealers Cove Lantern slide, about 1920, looking out over Sealers Cove (BA 2950)
Image: A.G. Campbell
Source: Museum Victoria
 

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Updates on what's happening at Melbourne Museum, the Immigration Museum, Scienceworks, the Royal Exhibition Building, and beyond.

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